Universal Shipping by Peredorita

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"What the hell is that?" Hulk #1 barks, as Hulk #2 continues tearing into one of the three identical boxes marked 'Fragile.'

He's already destroyed half of the cardboard, exposing a sleek oblong pod with thick glass tubes running along either side. As he continues ripping at it the design becomes more familiar; touchscreens and switches appear at about chest height, vents and pumps towards the bottom. With a curse, he moves to open the next box but there's no point now. We all knew exactly what'd be inside the other two.

Cryonic life support pods. Brigade-grade, intended for long-duration stasis. Certainly not meant for commercial use, and definitely not meant to be transported by three civilians in a junker delivery unit to the middle of nowhere.

Hulk #1 finds his voice first. "No wonder these were too heavy for Tiny and I to move by ourselves. Maybe if you take the top, Cap -"

"Take the top?" I interrupt. "Mac, this is contraband. Nobody should be touching these things. Somebody at Virago must have made a mistake."

"One of many," Tiny sneers, eyeing me over his shoulder.

It's been ten long months since we departed from Mars. Two months longer than a normal run since our final delivery is to a research station deep in the outer Oort Cloud. As if that wasn't bad enough, we lost transmission to the DSN upon entering the cloud, leaving me completely dependent on the ship's AI for our positioning.

An hour ago it suddenly anchored us in place, informing us we had reached our destination.

It's dead space, a void of ice and rocks and ice rocks. I can see it clearly from the bay windows when I break eye contact with Tiny. Our freighter hangs between massive asteroids; dull and pitted. Perhaps that's what makes me do a double take when I see a flash of light underneath the rock to our right.

There is a ship there, hiding in the dark, unlike anything I've ever seen. It's all sharp points and wicked curves, each detail highlighted by a slick glossy finish. What doesn't gleam is swallowed by shadow, the varnish disappearing to reflect its brighter surroundings. I can almost make out the texture of the asteroid that the strange ship is anchored under, though the mirror effect is distorted as the reflection seems to wave and ripple. My eyes must be playing —

The hair on the back of my neck stands up. It's not a trick of the light. The other ship is moving. Ever so slowly it glides away from the asteroid, reminding me of an old vid I'd once seen of a Terran shark hunting in the open ocean. Graceful but predatory.

Nothing human about it.

Nothing coincidental about it.

Two ships in dead space; one hidden, the other sent. One unarmed, unassuming delivery ship with three crewmen, one nearly empty loading bay, and three cryo-pods. Oh god.

Perhaps we reached our destination after all. Perhaps we're the delivery.  

The End

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This short story was peredorita's first time writing anything science fiction-related and it's inspired her to continue writing in this genre! 'Universal Shipping' will launch as a full story at the end of the month. She's also looking forward to releasing a few more short sci-fi stories soon!

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